Kalām cosmological argument

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The term Kalām cosmological argument (sometimes capitalized Kalām Cosmological Argument, or abbreviated KCA) is used to refer to a modern defense or re-formulation of the historical cosmological argument for the existence of God due to William Lane Craig, first proposed in his 1979 book The Kalām Cosmological Argument.

Craig stated the cosmological argument in terms of a brief syllogism, as follows:

  1. Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence;
  2. The universe has a beginning of its existence;
  3. The universe has a cause of its existence.[1]

Craig then distinguishes various types of arguments used to support the minor premise of "the universe has a beginning of its existence"; among these, he ends up adopting and defending an argument from the impossibility of actual infinites. Craig traces this idea to 11th-century philosopher Al-Ghazali and for this reason calls this type of cosmological argument the kalam cosmological argument (from Ilm al-Kalam "science of discourse", the Arabic term for the school of philosophy in medieval Islam).

This approach has since been part of the debate of New Atheism vs. Christian apologetics and especially popular forms of creationism (such as "Intelligent Design", and debate has mostly focussed on the claim of causality, and the notion of a "beginning of existence". Since the 1990s, "Kalam Cosmological Argument" has become a shorthand to refer to the specific debate about the cosmological argument that has been going on between Craig and a group of his critics including Graham Oppy, Adolf Grünbaum, J. L. Mackie and Quentin Smith.[2]

Historical background[edit]

The cosmological argument is based on the concept of the prime-mover, introduced by Aristotle, and entered early Christian or Neoplatonist philosophy in Late Antiquity, being developed by John Philoponus.[3]

Along with much of classical Greek philosophy, the concept was adopted into medieval Islamic tradition, where it "receiv[ed] its fullest articulation at the hands of Muslim and Jewish exponents of [Ilm al-]Kalam"[4] One of the earliest formations of the cosmological argument in Islamic tradition comes from Al-Kindi (9th century), who wrote, "Every being which begins has a cause for its beginning; now the world is a being which begins; therefore, it possesses a cause for its beginning."[5] During the 9th to 12th centuries, the cosmological argument developed as a concept within Islamic theology. It was refined in the 11th century by Al-Ghazali (The Incoherence of the Philosophers), and in the 12th by Ibn Rushd (Averroes). It reached medieval Christian philosophy in the 13th century, and was discussed by Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas.[6]

Its origins can be traced to medieval Muslim thinkers, but most directly to Islamic theologians of the Sunni tradition (Aqidah wasitiyyah by Ibn Taymiyyah). Its historic proponents include Al-Kindi,[7] Saadia Gaon,[8] Al-Ghazali,[9] and St. Bonaventure.[10][11][12]

Two kinds of Islamic perspectives may be considered with regard to the cosmological argument. A positive Aristotelian response strongly supporting the argument and a negative response which is quite critical of it. Among the Aristotelian thinkers are Al-Kindi, and Averroes. In contrast Al-Ghazali and Muhammad Iqbal[13] may be seen as being in opposition to this sort of an argument.

Al-Kindi is one of the many major and first Islamic philosophers who attempt to introduce an argument for the existence of God based upon purely empirical premises. In fact, his chief contribution is the cosmological argument (dalil al-huduth) for the existence of God, in his On First Philosophy.[14]

Al-Ghazzali was unconvinced by the first-cause arguments of Kindi. In response to them he writes: "According to the hypothesis under consideration, it has been established that all the beings in the world have a cause. Now, let the cause itself have a cause, and the cause of the cause have yet another cause, and so on ad infinitum. It does not behove you to say that an infinite regress of causes is impossible."[15]

11th century Islamic Philosopher Al-Ghazali argued that only the infinite per se is impossible, arguing for the possibility of the infinite per accidens.[citation needed] 19th century Islamic Poet and Philosopher Muhammad Iqbal also claimed:

"A finite effect can give only a finite cause, or at most an infinite series of such causes. To finish the series at a certain point, and to elevate one member of the series to the dignity of an un-caused first cause, is to set at naught the very law of causation on which the whole argument proceeds."

Craig and the modern debate[edit]

Craig presents a typology of three variants of the cosmological argument.

  • the form advocated by Aquinas based on the impossibility of the "essential" ordering of an infinite regress[16]
  • the argument that an infinite regress is impossible because an actual infinite is impossible
  • the argument from the principle of sufficient reason, presented by Leibniz and Clarke

It is the second form of the argument, based on the claimed impossibility of an actual infinite, which Craig calls the "kalam cosmological argument", as he traces its first formulation to Al-Ghazali.

William Lane Craig has defended the first premise as rationally intuitive knowledge, based upon the properly basic metaphysical intuition that "something cannot come into being from nothing", pointing out that such knowledge is assumed as a critically important first principle of science.[17][18] Moreover, he explains that it is affirmed by interaction with the physical world; for if it were false, it would be impossible to explain why objects do not randomly appear into existence without a cause.[17]

Actual infinities[edit]

On actual infinities, Craig asserts the metaphysical impossibility of an actually infinite series of past events by citing David Hilbert's famous Hilbert's Hotel thought experiment and Bertrand Russell's story of Tristam Shandy.[19] Though no substantive rebuttals to the impossibility of an infinite regress exist in modern literature, some examples exist historically:

Craig states the "kalam cosmological argument" with an additional syllogism intended to support the minor premise of "the universe began to exist" as follows:[20]

2. The universe began to exist.
2.1 Argument based on the impossibility of an actual infinite.
2.11 An actual infinite cannot exist.
2.12 An infinite temporal regress of events is an actual infinite.
2.13 Therefore, an infinite temporal regress of events cannot exist.
2.2 Argument based on the impossibility of the formation of an actual infinite by successive addition.
2.21 A collection formed by successive addition cannot be actually infinite.
2.22 The temporal series of past events is a collection formed by successive addition.
2.23 Therefore, the temporal series of past events cannot be actually infinite.

Technically, discussion of the kalam cosmological argument revolves around these additinal terms in support of the claim that "the universe began to exist". All other commentary on main syllogism is not specific to the Craig's kalam version in particular but addresses the cosmological argument generically.

The Kalām cosmological argument has received criticism from philosophers such[clarification needed] as J. L. Mackie, Graham Oppy, and Quentin Smith, physicists Paul Davies, Lawrence Krauss and Victor Stenger, and authors such as Dan Barker.[21] Criticism and discussion includes the disciplines of philosophy (with a focus on logic) as well as science (with a focus on physics and cosmology).

Quantum indeterminacy[edit]

A common criticism of premise one appeals to the phenomenon of quantum indeterminacy, where, at that the subatomic level, the causal principle appears to break down. Philosopher Quentin Smith has cited the example of virtual particles, which appear and disappear from observation, apparently at random, in his critique of the first premise of the Kalām Cosmological Argument.[22] In his popular science book A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing, cosmologist Lawrence Krauss has proposed how quantum mechanics can explain how space-time and matter can emerge from "nothing" (referring to the quantum vacuum).

Philosopher of science David Albert has subjected Krauss' hypothesis to criticism, accusing him of misleading use of the term "nothing".[23] Likewise, Craig has argued that virtual particles are not really without cause, but a product of the quantum vacuum, which contains quantifiable, measurable energy. He writes:

"For virtual particles do not literally come into existence spontaneously out of nothing. Rather the energy locked up in a vacuum fluctuates spontaneously in such a way as to convert into evanescent particles that return almost immediately to the vacuum."[24]

On quantum indeterminacy, Craig specifies that the phenomenon of indeterminism is specific to the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, pointing out that this is only one of a number of different interpretations, some of which are fully deterministic and none of which are as yet known to be true, concluding that subatomic physics is not a proven exception to the first premise.[25]


Craig has defended the second premise using both appeals to scientific evidence and philosophical arguments: Firstly, with evidence from cosmology, and secondly using an a posteriori argument for the metaphysical impossibility of actual infinities. For the former, he appeals to the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem,[26] a cosmological theorem which deduces that any universe that has, on average, been expanding throughout its history cannot be infinite in the past but must have a past space-time boundary. Craig writes:

"What makes their proof so powerful is that it holds regardless of the physical description of the universe prior to the Planck time. Because we can’t yet provide a physical description of the very early universe, this brief moment has been fertile ground for speculations. ... But the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem is independent of any physical description of that moment. Their theorem implies that even if our universe is just a tiny part of a so-called “multiverse” composed of many universes, the multiverse must have an absolute beginning."[27]

At the "State of the Universe" conference at Cambridge University in January of 2012, Professor Alexander Vilenkin, one of the three authors of the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem, discussed problems with various theories that would claim to avoid the need for a cosmological beginning, exposing the untenability of eternal inflation, cyclic and cosmic egg models, eventually concluding: "All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning."[28]

Nature of time[edit]

The premise of the cosmological argument is predicated upon the A-theory of time, as opposed to its alternative, the B-theory of time. The latter would allow the universe to exist tenselessly as a four-dimensional space-time block, under which circumstances the universe would not "begin to exist".[29] Craig has defended the A-theory against objections from J. M. E. McTaggart and Hybrid A-B theorists.[30][31]

Dan Barker[edit]

Dan Barker argues against Kalām[dubious ] on semantic and philosophical grounds. He states that the phrase "Everything that begins to exist" sounds contrived and "is not a phrase we hear outside the context of theistic philosophy".[32]

He also argues (with input from Michael Martin), that Kalām[clarification needed] effectively falls into the logical fallacy of begging the question if the first phrase excludes non-God possibilities. He argues that the argument, to be viable, must consider "items that begin to exist", or "BE" as well as a set of multiple items that do not begin to exist or "NBE". However, he states, "If God is the only object allowed in NBE, then BE is merely a mask for the creator ... [and] this puts God into the premise of the argument"—begging the question.[33] Finally, Barker offers that Kalām may be "self-refuting" in that the "argument claims that 'an actual infinity cannot exist in reality'" and that "God, if he is actually infinite, cannot exist" within this construct.[34]


  1. ^ Nasr, trans. Seyyed Hossein, An introduction to Islamic cosmological doctrines. Albany : State University of New York Press, 1993
  2. ^ see Graham Smith, “Arguing about the Kalam Cosmological Argument,” Philo, 5(1), 2002: 34–61. See also Bruce Reichenbach, 'Cosmological Argument in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosohpy (first published Tue Jul 13, 2004; substantive revision Fri Oct 26, 2012)
  3. ^ "it was first formulated by a Greek-speaking Syriac Christian neo-Platonist, John Philoponus, who claims to find a contradiction between the Greek pagan insistence on the eternity of the world and the Aristotelian rejection of the existence of any actual infinite." Duncan, S., Analytic philosophy of religion: its history since 1955 (2010), Humanities-Ebooks, p. 165.
  4. ^ Duncan, S., Analytic philosophy of religion: its history since 1955 (2010), Humanities-Ebooks, p. 165.
  5. ^ Craig 1994: 80
  6. ^ Averroes, Ibn Rushd, The Incoherence of the Incoherence (Tahafut al-Tahafut) London:Luzac, 1954, pp. 58
  7. ^ Al-Kindi, On First Philosophy, with an Introduction and Commentary by Alfred L. Ivry (Albany, N. Y.: State University of New York Press, 1974), pp. 67–75
  8. ^ Saadia Gaon, The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, trans. Samuel Rosenblatt (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1948), pp. 41–44
  9. ^ al Ghazali, Kitab al lqtisad, with a foreword by Î. A. Çubukçu and H. Atay (Ankara: University of Ankara Press, 1962), pp. 15–16.
  10. ^ Francis J. Kovach, 'The Question of the Eternity of the World in St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas – A Critical Analysis', Southwestern Journal of Philosophy 5 (1974), pp. 141–172.
  11. ^ Smith, Quentin (2007). "Kalam Cosmological Arguments for Atheism". In Martin, Michael. The Cambridge companion to atheism. Cambridge University Press. p. 183. ISBN 978-0-521-84270-9. 
  12. ^ Craig, William Lane; The Kalam Cosmological Argument (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2000); ISBN 978-1-57910-438-2
  13. ^ Iqbal, Muhammad The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam Lahore:Institute of Islamic Culture, 1986
  14. ^ Nasr, trans. Seyyed Hossein, An introduction to Islamic cosmological doctrines. Albany : State University of New York Press, 1993 pp. 168
  15. ^ Al-Ghazzali, Tahafut Al-Falasifah (The Incoherence of Philosophers), translated by Sabih Ahmad Kamali. Lahore: Pakistan Philosophical Congress, 1963 pp. 90–91
  16. ^ Aquinas argues that only an "incidental" ordering among causes, but not an "essential" ordering, can reach back forever
  17. ^ a b Craig 2007
  18. ^ Craig 1994: 92
  19. ^ Craig 1996
  20. ^ Craig 1994: 116
  21. ^ Reichenbach 2008: 4.1
  22. ^ Smith, Q (1988), "The Uncaused Beginning of the Universe," Philosophy of Science 55:39-57.
  23. ^ David Albert, "On the Origin of Everything 'A Universe From Nothing,' by Lawrence M. Krauss" The New York Times, March 23, 2012, BR20
  24. ^ "The Caused Beginning of the Universe: a Response to Quentin Smith." British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 44 (1993): 623-639.
  25. ^ Moreland, James Porter, and William Lane. Craig. Philosophical foundations for a Christian worldview. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity P. 469
  26. ^ A. Borde, A. Guth and A. Vilenkin (2003). "Inflationary space-times are incomplete in past directions". Physical Review Letters 90 (15): 151301.
  27. ^ http://www.reasonablefaith.org/contemporary-cosmology-and-the-beginning-of-the-universe
  28. ^ http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21328474.400-why-physicists-cant-avoid-a-creation-event.html
  29. ^ Craig, Moreland 2009: 183–184
  30. ^ Oaklander, L. Nathan (2002). "Presentism, Ontology and Temporal Experience". In Craig Callender. Time, reality & experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 73–90. ISBN 978-0-521-52967-9. 
  31. ^ Balashov, Yuri; Janssen, Michel (2003). "Presentism and Relativity". British Jnl. for the Philosophy of Sci. (Oxford University Press) 54 (2): 327–346. doi:10.1093/bjps/54.2.327. Retrieved 06/10/2011. 
  32. ^ Barker, Dan (2009). Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists. Ulysses. p. 130. ASIN B003ODHOQ8. 
  33. ^ Barker, Dan (2009). Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists. Ulysses. pp. 130–131. ASIN B003ODHOQ8. 
  34. ^ Barker, Dan (2009). Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists. Ulysses. pp. 135–136. ASIN B003ODHOQ8. 

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